Great teaching: that indefinable, indescribable but identifiable thing

Our colleague Cathy Sherry has recently given a public lecture as a Fellow of the UNSW Scientia Education Academy.   A video of her lecture is now online

Great teaching: that indefinable, indescribable but identifiable thing

There is much institutions can do to improve teaching. The starting point is defining the basic characteristics of good teaching and requiring teachers to meet those standards. However, there is a core element of great teaching that is beyond precise definition or easy labelling. It is that process whereby a person takes complex concepts and communicates them to others in a comprehensible way; the combination of words or actions that makes ‘the penny drop’ so that students ‘get it’. We have all experienced that lightbulb moment with a great teacher and know the joy of having mastered complex ideas. It is the single most desirable thing for students in education and students know good teaching when they see it.
In a world with ever-increasing accountability and reporting, how can institutions recognise and reward a skill that is not easily reported? For the sake of our students, how can we identify and value staff, particularly sessional staff, who have that crucial skill in abundance?
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